I freely walked into a bird cage at the zoo today and faced my fear of birds phobia. With my body shaking, I stretched out my arm and let a lorikeet perch on my finger and drink nectar from a small cup in my hand.
At one point, two birds rested on me. But one flew away.
My husband held me up as my body shook. My daughter stood by and sort-of watched, naive to the anxiety and fear surging through me.
I left the cage when the bird moved on and our time was up. Why did I face my fear of birds? Because I no longer live in fear. And nothing, even birds, can stop me. It was time.
Phobia for birds
I’ve had a phobia for birds all my life. I've never received an official diagnosis of "ornithophobia," although I'm sure that's what it is.
I don’t recall many other childhood events with such crystal clarity as I do the day I became terrified of anything aviary. It's one of my earliest memories.
Where my fear of birds began
It all started in the pet store.
I was with my family at the mall. We walked up to the pet store. The rest of the family wanted to go in. I grew immediately hesitant because of a colorful bird sitting on an open perch right outside the entrance. With no cage surrounding it, no leash anchoring it, I felt immediate concern about its lack of containment.
What if it flew away or came into the store... or after us?
I stood there alone in a paralyzing fear. My parents’ gentle persuasions and reassurances of my safety eventually got me to move. I darted into the store and veered right toward the caged puppies and kittens. I squeezed into a crowd of people adoring the cuteness, baffled that everyone else completely ignored the threat of a bird sitting out in the open.
They didn’t see or feel it, but I did. My concern grew. I didn’t feel safe.
Following the flow of traffic, I walked with the other shoppers toward the back of the store where aquariums full of colorful fish lined the wall. They held my attention for a few seconds, taking my mind off the bird. Once the group moved toward the front again, panic returned.
And then, in the middle of an aisle of pet supplies, it happened.
The bird I'd spotted, the reason I didn't want to go near the store, flew off the perch and landed right in front of me. No joke. It made a few chirps and hopped closer and closer toward me.
I screamed and shook in complete horror.
Terror ran through my little body as my dad held me and store clerks rushed to get the bird contained. Once I finally made it out of the store, I swore I’d never go into a pet shop or anywhere near a bird again. I hated the sound, sight and thought of them.
For all my life the fear dwelled in me. It was an absolute phobia.
Fear factor and facing my fear of birds
Even as an adult, my phobia for birds continued. I'll never forget the first time I grabbed a hot dog in Bryant Park during one of my first trips to NYC. I was soaking in the beauty of such an iconic place, but then it happened. The birds in NYC were not scared of people, and they started coming toward me. My memories of visiting the park became instantly shrouded in fear of what would happen if the birds got too close.
All my life, my deep-seated fear of birds has had a hold on me. Although I did reach the point I'd enter a pet store again, I don't go often or willingly. I avoid birds and shutter at their sights and sounds.
That's why what I did today is so signifigant.
While my body shook in fear, I went for it and did something that seemed impossible. I looked fear in the face and delivered the news: you don't win. It wasn't easy, nor was I initially brave. I wanted to turn around as I stood in line to enter the bird cage. I doubted I could go through with it. As everyone else in the bird cage seemed to enjoy the birds landing on their shoulders and pecking at their hands, I wanted to scream and run.
But something in my heart told me to say yes to the experience and stick it out. It was something, or should I say Someone, I've learned to listen to.
How I overcame my fear of birds
Today's journey into the birdcage was more than an exercise to conquer my fear of birds. (Although it did feel like an episode of Fear Factor). While it's a great mental health exercise for facing a bird phobia, I wanted to see if I could get over my fear of birds because of something bigger going on in my life.
God's shown me what true freedom means.
I've been on a healing journey where I've recognized that I've lived in fear for most of my life. As a young cancer survivor, it makes sense. But also, there's other parts of my story that have led me to feel bound up, afraid, and closed off. But thanks to trauma therapy and a lot of time in prayer and devotionals, I've begun to feel the Holy Spirit heal me.
I got an arrow tattoo to remind me that I am free. And today, I stepped inside a bird cage to conquer my bird phobia and overcome the temptation to let it control me. I still don't love birds. They are far from my favorite animal. I don't want to go into the lorikeet cage again.
But, today was one step closer to not letting this fear of birds overtake me. As I reflect on the experience, I do feel even more free.